Historical introduction Essay
Empathy has been related to an individual’s ability to understand, predict, experience and relate to other’s behaviours, feelings attitudes and intentions. The term ‘empathy’ was first introduced into English language by the psychologist Edward Titchener in 1909. It was first used as a translation of the German term ‘Einfuhlung’ which means ‘feeling into’. The use of this term in philosophical analysis started in the second half of 18th century and was termed as the ability to feel into the works of art and into the nature.
The term was first used as a scientific term by Robert Visher in philosophical analysis in his work ‘On the Optical Sense of Form: A contribution to Aesthetics’. This definition has gradually changed from feeling for art and nature to interpersonal processes between target persons who display overt behaviour in a specific situation and an observer who observes the target’s behaviour, the situational context and reacts empathically to the target. There have been significant contributions on empathy from various individuals from various perspectives.
Hoffman contributed to how empathy can influence the moral behaviour. Batson, Eisenberg & Strayer identified the relationship between empathy and altruistic and prosocial behaviour. EDavies, Stankov and Roberts, Stayer contributed to relationship of empathy to emotional intelligence, Eiesenberg and Miller, Saarni identified the relationship of empathy and social competence. McColluough, Worthington and Rachal identified the relationship between empathy and interpersonal forgiving. Feshbach, Miller and Eisenberg related empathy to the level of aggression towards others.
Empathy has grown to a construct and competence that is seen to be an important aspect of interpersonal sensitivity and social competence. (Judith et al, 2001) Definition of Empathy Empathy can be defined in simple terms as: ‘Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives’. From a psychological point of view, empathy includes affective and cognitive processes. Here ‘affective’ means felling something due to the perceived feelings of the target person. The ‘cognitive’ part of the empathy includes focus on understanding the feelings and thoughts of the target person.
Some of the definitions of empathy are: “An effective response more appropriate to someone else’s situation than to one’s own” (Hoffman, 1982) “Other-oriented feelings of concern, compassion, and tenderness experienced as a result of witnessing another person’s suffering” (Batson, et al, 1981) “the capacity for participating in, or a vicarious experiencing of another’s feelings, violations, or ideas and sometimes another’s movements to the option of executing bodily movements resembling his” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1971).
“An effective state stemming from apprehension of another’s emotional state or condition and which is congruent with it” (Eisenberg et al, 1986) The stimuli for empathy come from two areas – the emotional expression of the target person or from the situational context. The emotional stimuli occur when the expressional behaviour of the target is interpreted by the observer. For example, a person who smiles can be interpreted as happy while a person who frowns can be interpreted as sad.
Situational context stimuli occur if the observer concludes the emotional state of the target from the situation that the target is involved with or dealing with. For example, a friend who is physically assaulted or hustled in the schoolyard might be frightened, ashamed or angry. Empathy also denotes the vicarious experiencing of the emotions of others, which may not be necessarily being identical to the emotions of the individual observing. There are several issues concerning the conceptualisation of empathy. One of the key aspects is the self-differentiation when empathizing.
Some of the theorists like Feshbach, Kohut, Rogers, Traux assume that there is minimal differentiation between the self and others when empathizing. Other theorists such as Hoffman assume that empathy does not involve a differentiation between the self and the other in the early phases of empathy. This puts to question whether it is termed empathy or is it a precursor to empathy when one experiences vicarious emotion during the process and is not aware of the exact origin. Empathy and Sympathy Distinguishing between sympathy and empathy is key to understanding empathy.
Wispe is widely recognised for his work on this subject. Wispe’ defines sympathy as follows: “the heightened awareness of suffering of another person as something to be alleviated. ” There are two aspects to this definition of sympathy defined by Wispe. The first aspect is related to the increased sensitivity to the emotions of the other person. Sympathy in this respect intensifies both the representation and the internal reaction to the other person’s predicament. The second aspect involves the urge to take whatever mitigating action that becomes necessary for the suffering of the other to be alleviated immediately.
Sympathy often involves feelings of concern and often sympathy is the consequence of empathizing. Sympathy also results from processes such as cognitive perspective talking and other external stimulus. The key difference between empathy and sympathy lies in the fact that empathy involves role taking, skills in reading non-verbal cues about the other person’s emotions, sensitivity to the full range and depth of the affected person’s situation and emotional state and communication of a feeling of caring and sincere attempts in a non-judgemental or helping manner.
(Nancy, et al, 1990) Empathy differs from sympathy in the same way as ‘looking with’ differs from ‘looking at’. While sympathy expresses the outsiders’ view of the target person’s action, it involves judgement from a separate point of view. (Randall, et al, 2001) While empathy can be used for effective communication and relationship building with the subject, sympathy can become burdensome and emotionally exhaustive for the person involved. This can cause burnout of the individual.
Sympathy involves the person feeling shared as the sufferer and implies that the sympathiser feels the pain of the subject as if it is his or her. In contrast, empathy is concerned with a higher order of human relationship and understanding. It involves an engaged detachment. Here the feelings of others is borrowed to observe, feel and understand but not taken to themselves. Here the participant-observer understands how the other person feels, but is removed out of the equation once the understanding is obtained.
Subject: Edward Titchener,
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 June 2017
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